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U.K. Conservative Party Set to Announce Next Leader; U.K. Issues New Warnings Over Seized Tanker. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired July 23, 2019 - 04:00   ET


[04:01:16] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome, everyone, to CNN's special coverage as the U.K. waits for a new prime minister. I'm Rosemary Church.

Big Ben has just struck 9:00 a.m. in the U.K. and the Conservative Party members are getting ready the to announce their new leader.

The victor of the Tory leadership contest will replace Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street. The votes are already in and we expect to hear the winner named in just under three hours from now.

The clear frontrunner is former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. His only challenger, the man who replaced him, Jeremy Hunt. Johnson is a divisive figure especially over his readiness to take a no deal Brexit, though in fairness Hunt has not ruled it out either. Hunt has said he will serve in a Johnson cabinet but a growing list of top conservatives say they won't.

Later this hour we also expect Mrs. May to hold her final cabinet meeting as prime minister. Her time in office has been defined by Brexit and she's passing on that challenge to her successor. Whether it's Hunt or Johnson, the next prime minister faces a Brexit deadline on October 31st.

Now, whether the final pick is Johnson or Hunt, one thing is for sure. Brexit has taken out another prime minister.

CNN's Nic Robertson has this look at Theresa May's time at 10 Downing Street.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I will shortly leave the job that has been the honor of my life to hold.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): The great survivor of British politics, finally admitting defeat. Three years after taking over from David Cameron, Theresa May brought down by the very thing that ended Cameron's career, Brexit.

MAY: We need of course to negotiate the best deal for Britain in leaving the E.U. and to forge a new role for ourselves in the world.

ROBERTSON: The task of navigating the U.K.'s departure from the E.U. defined and ultimately sunk May's leadership. With her Brexit deal she made political history in all the wrong ways. Losing a vote in parliament by a historic margin.

JOHN BERCOW, SPEAKER, BRITISH HOUSE OF COMMONS: The ayes to the right 202, the nays to the left 432.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She went around blindly trotting out this mantra catch phrase that Brexit means Brexit.

MAY: Brexit means Brexit. Brexit means Brexit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which suggested to everybody, hey, it's going to be OK. It's going to be like almost a box seeking exercise. That didn't prepare people for the messy nature of compromise.

ROBERTSON: This monumental Brexit task made all the harder after May called a snap election in 2017. Her plan, to strengthen the government's hand in negotiation with Brussels. Instead, it backfired spectacularly. The Conservative Party lost their majority and May lost face, perhaps the writing already on the wall.

She went on as prime minister eventually admitting her mistake.

MAY: I take the responsibility. I led the campaign and I am sorry.

ROBERTSON: Even this moment of rare remorse overshadowed by misfortune. First an interruption by a protester then a coughing fit.

MAY: The economy is back on track.

[04:05:01] ROBERTSON: As the letters began started to drop off the wall behind her, for May's critics the perfect metaphor for her disintegrating leadership.

Never appearing fully comfortable in the public eye, May's stiff demeanor earned her the unflattering nickname, the Maybot. Nevertheless, she made a virtue of her political handicap. Owning her awkwardness, never shying away from an opportunity to dance in public.

Those who worked for her say she is a woman of principle, with a deep sense of public duty. But in this fructuous phase of British politics, other essential qualities were lacking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flexibility. An ability to reach out to forge compromise, to speak to people that she doesn't necessarily have that much time for. Some of those deal making political skills where she fell short.

ROBERTSON: Ultimately, it was this inability to strike a Brexit deal that cost May her job, making her the second consecutive British prime minister to be brought down by Brexit. A daunting legacy for the next Number 10 resident to turn around.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: And Isa Soares is outside the British parliament. She joins us now live. And we hand it over to her for continuing coverage -- Isa.

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Rosemary. A very welcome the to you. It's six minutes past 9:00 here in London and we're going to get more on really a momentous day today, an historic day.

International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joins us now from 10 Downing Street which regardless of the outcome will soon have a new resident and it will be, Nic, the 77th prime minister of this country. Talk us through, talk to viewers through what we can expect today.

ROBERTSON: Well, right now we're expecting cabinet members to arrive for Theresa May's last cabinet. This is beginning in about half an hour's time. A little less than. But it's the moment in two hours that we expect the announcement to come over who has won the leadership of the Conservative Party.

Boris Johnson broadly, widely anticipated to be that person but it's not official until it's official, of course. And then a sequence of events takes place but it's not a rush here to the doors here at Number 10. There's still a day where Theresa May is still prime minister, although Boris Johnson, if it is him, will be leader of the Conservative Party.

Theresa May on Wednesday would then go to parliament for her last prime minister's question time. She would then leave parliament. Go to the Queen, tender her resignation. Boris Johnson would then go to the Queen, visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and then make his way here to Number 10.

So it will be really another 24 hours or so before Boris Johnson is actually -- if it is him, and I say that again, widely expected to be -- before he is actually prime minister and able as prime minister to step over the threshold there. But as I say, there are members of the cabinet going in there this morning. For some of them they will be wondering and will this be their last cabinet meeting a well.

Who will Boris Johnson pick to be his cabinet and the key positions in the early hours will likely be Home secretary chancellor, because Philip Hammond has already said he's stepping down, and Foreign secretary position as well who is Jeremy Hunt, at the moment who is Boris Johnson's main challenger for the leadership. But interesting to see if Johnson keeps Hunt on if that's the way the leadership race pans out.

SOARES: And if it is Boris Johnson who is the hot favorite, as you said, Nic, what challenges does he face? Because the reality is that his preoccupations, his challenges, his hurdles will be just as big as Theresa May's.

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. Look, he's promising a do-or-die Brexit. He is being voted on the basis of what he said and what the party believes he's prepared to do over Brexit. Plus his charismatic appeal should be a general election. But on Brexit, he has said a do-or-die Brexit that they will leave, Britain will leave without a deal come 31st of October this year.

He's also said that he will have a cabinet that feels and thinks the same way. So he's going to have to weed out of the cabinet those that don't swear support on that particular point. That will be a challenge. The cabinet will be a challenge. Assuaging the fears and concerns of those members of the Conservative Party who don't line up with him on Brexit, not just those cabinet members who are going to resign or be forced out, but the dozen or so or more other conservatives that could potentially be a vote against a no deal Brexit in parliament that could be a very serious thorn in his side going forward.

[04:10:11] That would be the challenge. In terms of Brexit, negotiating this new deal with the European Union that's an existing deal, Theresa May's European Union who says they won't open it up. But what difference is Boris Johnson going to take to them, what difference can he make. We've heard him talk about the backstop and there being technical solutions to finding a way around the backstop. A thorny issue over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Those issues, those technical solutions have been kind of laid out before but anyway that's going to be the challenge there.

But perhaps as he steps over the threshold, the biggest challenge is going to be the rising tensions with Iran. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt just yesterday in parliament said that he was looking towards Europe to form a coalition to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf rather than aligning with the United States and their maximum pressure on Iran.

Johnson has been seen in the past as being much more pro-Trump, if you will, in his opinions. Will he shape towards the United States on this or follow to the Europeans for support, for security in the Gulf at the same time trying to negotiate his way out of the European Union -- Rosemary -- Isa. I'm terribly sorry.

SOARES: You're absolutely fine, very good. Thank you very much, Nic Robertson. Plenty there for the prime minister to dig his teeth into.

For more, I'm joined by Nigel Evans, he is a Conservative MP and a member in International Trade and Development Select Committee. He's scrutinized the work of the Department for International Trade.

Nigel, thank you very much for coming in. It's a beautiful day. A scorcher of a day.


SOARES: We heard from Nic Robertson there who is basically saying, look, the hot favorite is Boris Johnson. You're expecting him to win and if so by how much here?

EVANS: Yes, I'm expecting Boris to win. Just chatting to my Conservative Association members, the vast majority of them seem to be backing Boris. And I just think that anything in the 60 percent mark I think would be a very, very good result. It could be clear.

SOARES: Because that would give him a clear mandate?

EVANS: Yes. The important thing -- because, I mean, the one thing, if it is Boris, when he walks into 10 Downing Street the only thing he doesn't have to bring in new with him are knives, because he's already got a half a dozen of them in his back. So he's got to solve one or two personnel problems there. And I have the opportunity then to turn to some of my colleagues and say, hey, hold on now, Conservative members have actually voted for Boris Johnson so give him a chance. And that's what he needs, is a chance.

SOARES: What Nic Robertson was saying is that he will want to surround himself, when he picks his cabinet, by people who think like him. Isn't this about trying to find unity within the party, finding other people who think differently from you?

EVANS: No. Absolutely. He just can't pack the cabinet full of Brexiteers. I mean, the big difference between himself and Theresa May is that Boris campaigned for Brexit.


EVANS: And believes in the mission. The problem with Theresa, and I did tell her this herself, is that she saw Brexit as a problem and a disaster that needed to be mitigated.

SOARES: Something that was handed to her. Yes.

EVANS: Yes, that's right. Absolutely. But she knew -- she wanted that job and she knew that she had to deliver Brexit which she failed to do and it's cost her her job.

SOARES: But you supported Theresa May's deal in the first round.

EVANS: I did. No, on the second and third.

SOARES: On the second and third.

EVANS: That's right. On the first one, no, I didn't like it. It seemed incredibly complicated. And I think this is what's the difference now is that Boris is going to change the dynamics, the conversation will change because --

SOARES: How so?

EVANS: Because he believes in the mission. So when he goes to Brussels and then again he knows Brussels incredibly well from his days when he was a reporter in Brussels, he will be able to talk to Michel Barnier and say come on, guys, you want a deal? We want a deal.

SOARES: But we've already heard from Europe. Europe says it's not budging.

EVANS: Yes, although -- SOARES: It's not (INAUDIBLE) anything else. What can Boris Johnson

realistically achieve that Theresa May hasn't? Is he a better negotiator?

EVANS: I mean, her part of the problem is when Brussels said to Theresa you can't have this, you can't have that, she came straight back and said, well, we can't have this and we can't have that.

SOARES: So she wasn't a tough negotiator?

EVANS: It wasn't a really -- it wasn't much of a negotiator. And so whatever Brussels wanted she came back and tried to push through parliament. She tried to push it through parliament three times and it didn't work. So both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have said that her deal is dead. The -- so the withdrawn agreement is gone. The backstop between Northern Ireland and Ireland absolutely gone. It has to go. So what they need to do is to look at different solutions to the problems that exist.

SOARES: You backed Theresa May on the second and third but you also for a no deal Brexit, is that correct?

EVANS: No. What I'm for is keeping no deal on the table. If you're negotiating --

SOARES: Right. OK.

EVANS: If you're negotiating, you're going to have the opportunity at some stage to walk away. If you're buying a car.


EVANS: And they know that whatever happens --

SOARES: You think you need have that right at the very end.

EVANS: That's right.

SOARES: As a negotiating tactic.

EVANS: No. Absolutely right. Both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have that on the table and I think it's right. We need people like Amber Rudd who in the cabinet who is more of a pro-European.


[04:15:05] EVANS: She changed her mind and said no, you have to have no deal on the table.

SOARES: But, Nigel, that is extremely risky, isn't it?

EVANS: Well, no. I think it increases the leverage of the prime minister in the negotiations.

SOARES: Perhaps, but it's risky nonetheless.

EVANS: Well, no. It strengthens the hand of the negotiator. If you take no deal off the table --

SOARES: If you get what you want at the end.


SOARES: If it comes to the 31st and you don't have what you want.

EVAN: Yes.

SOARES: Then you're really leaving --

EVANS: Well, that -- that is damaging for the United Kingdom, it's damaging for the European Union. We've got a 95-million-pound trade deficit with the European Union. We love buying their German cars, we love buying their French wines. We want to carry on doing that, that tariff free and hassle free.

SOARES: So do you back Boris when it comes to this do or die mission that he talks about?

EVANS: Yes, yes. Right. Well, what we've had over the past few months are local elections, where the Conservative Party was hammered.


EVANS: Then we had the European Union elections rather absurdly. We got hammered there with the Brexit party. If we haven't left the European Union by October 31st then of course the Conservative Party, the next round of elections will be next May, with the local elections. But of course the next general election is everybody thinks is going to come sooner rather than later.

SOARES: That was coming -- if we don't reach a deal by the 31st what's the likelihood? Are we looking at a new referendum or general election? Is that something -- I was reading an article by Tony Blair who was actually saying -- I'm sure you read it, too.

EVANS: I did.

SOARES: I think it was in the "Times" he was saying -- he was telling Boris Johnson not to go down the general election route. Do you think that's highly likely?

EVANS: No, the reason why he doesn't want to go down the general election route --

SOARES: We know.


EVANS: -- is because the Labour Party are incredibly -- they're even below us in the polls. I wouldn't want an early election before we left the European Union. But at the end of the day if we can't leave by October 31st and the math in the parliament over this is three quarters of the MPs are remain voting MPs then we would have to have an early general election. SOARES: And you think Boris can change the math in here?

EVANS: Absolutely.

SOARES: Not just within his own party?

EVANS: Well, don't forget --

SOARES: But also within the DUP.

EVANS: Yes. But in the north of the United Kingdom, in the north -- you know, in England, the north of England, you got a sway of Labour MPs where their constituents voted to leave. So I'm hoping that Boris will be able to change the dynamics there, too, and bring a number of Labour MPs on to vote for whatever deal he does come back for. Because a number of Labour MPs want to get out of the European Union as well. They need to do -- they need to deliver for their own constituents.

SOARES: A lot of pressure on Boris but he has set it up himself, hasn't he? He's promised a lot.

EVANS: Well, he applied for the job. And we'll see --

SOARES: Well, he knew a long time ago he wanted this. This has been a long time coming, isn't it?

EVANS: For three years. Don't forget. Three years.

SOARES: Well, I would say 40 years.

But anyways, Nigel, lovely to meet you. Thank you very much.

EVANS: Thank you very much.

SOARES: Now still to come right here, and like a typical leadership contest today's decision to choose the next prime minister of the U.K. isn't being decided by a general election. We'll tell you who gets to choose later on in the show.

Plus former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has a special message for Boris Johnson regarding the E.U. The U.S. as well. CNN's exclusive interview is up next.


[04:20:09] SOARES: Now in a few short hours the British Conservative Party will announce its new leader. Boris Johnson is widely expected to beat rival Jeremy Hunt and replace Theresa May as the next prime minister of the U.K. Johnson is a hard core Brexiteer and if he wins he's promised to drag Britain out of the E.U. by the end of October deal or no deal as you heard me discuss with my previous guest.

While the U.K. waits for a leadership change it's currently tied up in an escalating diplomatic void with Iran. Britain's foreign secretary calls Iran's seizure of the British British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, quote, "an act of state piracy." He says the U,K. is beefing up its military presence in the Gulf and wants Britain's allies to help. Meantime, Iran's foreign minister has a special message for Boris Johnson, the man who's favored to replace Theresa May as prime minister. Take a listen.


MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I think it is very important for Boris Johnson as he enters 10 Downing Street to understand that Iran does not seek confrontation, Iran wants to have normal relations based on mutual respect.


SOARES: Now CNN's Christiane Amanpour spoke exclusively to former U.K. prime minister Gordon Brown about the escalating tensions between Iran as well as the West. He says Boris Johnson could play a key diplomatic role in resolving the conflict.


GORDON BROWN, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I think Boris Johnson should be very much aware that the background to this is the failure of the American administration to stay with the Iranian deal. And I think the background to this is also that Britain must remain solid with our European partners. But what he can do to persuade President Trump to look again at the conditions in which he might sign a deal with Iran is in my view very important.

I am told, whether it's right or wrong, that Iran would accept tougher conditions, that they would move to a higher level of inspection earlier, if that were something that America would press for. And this may be the basis on which this deal can be solved.


SOARES: Gordon Brown there speaking to Christiane Amanpour. Well, we have team coverage on this developing story. Matthew Chance is in Khor Fakkan, United Arab Emirates and Melissa Bell is in Guttenberg, Sweden where she spoke with the CEO of Stena Bulk, that is the company of course operating the British -- the seized British tanker.

Matthew, if I can start with you. We have heard from Iran in the last 24 hours, in fact from Java Zarif, saying Iran is not seeking confrontation. What exactly is it seeking? What's the goal here besides this tit-for-tat that we've been seeing?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, according to the Iranian foreign minister, Iran wants a normal relationship with Britain based on mutual respect, but I think, you know , what it really wants, if we bear down and you grill down a little bit further, it wants a return of its oil assets that was seized by Britain earlier this month off the coast of Gibraltar on that tanker taking oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. It wants this normalization but, you know, there's very little sign at this stage of that taking place. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE (voice-over): This is the first glimpse of the crew detained on board the British-flagged oil tanker seized in the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian state television shows what it says are some of the 23 men from India, Russia, Latvia and the Philippines, appearing to look well and in good spirits. Even as their ship, the Stena Impero, is confined to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, under close military guard and flying an Iranian flag from its mast.

British officials said their response would be robust and now the country's foreign secretary has laid out the next steps, announcing a European naval force in the region to protect international shipping.

JEREMY HUNT, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: If Iran continues on this dangerous path, they must accept the price will be a larger Western military presence in the waters along their coastline, not because we wish to increase tensions but simply because freedom of navigation is a principle which Britain and its allies will always defend.

CHANCE: And as this crisis develops, Iran has further ratcheted up tensions with another. Announcing what it says is the breakup of a CIA spy ring. Iranian state television casting it as evidence of America's maligned activities. Iran says some of the 17 Iranian citizens arrested will be executed.

Iran has, of course, been the subject of U.S. intelligence efforts. But President Trump and his secretary of State are pouring cold water on the latest allegations.

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I would take with a significant grain of salt any Iranian associate bad actions that they have taken.

[04:25:09] CHANCE: But there's little doubt about the firm grip Iran and its elite Revolutionary Guard now has on this British-flagged tanker or on the fate of its crew now pawns in a geopolitical game with no end in sight.


CHANCE: The British foreign secretary said that the British Maritime Force would not be part of the U.S. maximum pressure policy. It's being seen as a further sign of a rift between the U.K. and the U.S. on the issue of Iran and its integration in the international community.

SOARES: Matthew, do stay with us. I want to bring in Melissa Bell.

Melissa, Iran claiming that the Stena Bulk violated maritime law. You spoke to the CEO. What did he say to this?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He said very categorically, Isa, that that had not been the case. That all the instruments on board the ship allowed them very closely to see precisely where it had been. It had been in international or on (INAUDIBLE) waters, he said, and it had not violated maritime law because, of course, this is a British- flagged ship but it belongs to a Swedish company. Its crew is international.

I asked Erik Hanell as well what kind of channels he was going through to try to communicate with authorities, what kind of communication he'd managed to establish with Iran.


ERIK HANELL, CEO, STENA BULK: The one request we have sent recently which was yesterday was that we should have access to the crew and have confirmed that they have received the request but we're still waiting for a reply. So it's not dead silence in that respect to us but the communication back is very, very limited.

BELL: What do you know about the fate of the crew?

HANELL: We see the position on the -- through the technical means we have. We have heard through third sources and we have seen on the news, of course, that it looks like the crew is in good health considering the circumstances. So, of course, a lot of psychological pressure on them, I'm sure, but it looks like they are, you know, in reasonably good health. Nevertheless, of course, the most important thing for us is to confirm it ourselves as well and to make sure that -- I mean, we want a direct line to them and talk to the crew and make sure that they are in good shape and for sure, also make sure that they get connected to their relatives as well.


BELL: I put to Erik Hanell that it was the fact that the tanker had been British-flagged that had no doubt made it a target. He would not be drawn on that. I also asked him about what Jeremy Hunt has said in the comments. We heard him just a moment ago and what Matthew Chance was reporting there, speaking in the House of Commons. He had told that the ship had not given the British Navy time enough, alerted it early enough so that it might have come to its rescue and prevented it from falling into Iranian hands before it reached that Iranian waters.

He categorically denied that contradicting the British foreign secretary. On the other hand, said that British authorities, despite of course the political change that we're going through had been very cooperative and he was in touch with them a great deal. In fact he's hoping to travel there in the next couple of days to meet the new team that will be in charge -- Isa.

SOARES: Thanks very much, Melissa Bell, there for us in Guttenberg, Sweden.

Now Theresa May may have danced her last as a British prime minister. We have been watching ministers arrive at 10 Downing Street for her -- possibly their last cabinet meeting. Continuing special coverage as we wait to find out who will be the next to waltz into 10 Downing Street follows after a very short break. We give you live image coming into you from 10 Downing Street.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [04:31:42] SOARES: It is 9:30 here in London. You are watching CNN's special coverage of the Conservative Party's leadership contest. I'm Isa Soares coming to you live from outside of the British parliament.

Theresa May became the British prime minister on the heels, if you remember, of the 2016 Brexit vote. Leaving the E.U. was too big a challenge for her predecessor David Cameron and it proved just impossible, I think it's fair to say, for Mrs. May as well.

At 10 Downing Street right now, the outgoing prime minister is set to hold her last cabinet meeting. Her successor will be announced in the coming hours. The Conservative Party is set to name one of two men, men we've been talking about here on the show. Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, as the new leader of the Conservative Party.

Now the new prime minister is effectively being chosen by a group of the Conservative Party but does not look much like British society as a whole. For starters, though, 160,000 members make up about one- third of 1 percent of the country's electorate.

And here's what else a research initiative called the Party Members Project has found. Nearly all, 97 percent, of the membership is white. More than 70 percent of the Conservative Party members are male. About 60 percent are at least 55 years old and nearly half live in the south of the country outside of London.

For more on this I'm joined by John Rentoul. He is the chief political commentator for the Independent.

And John, a very good morning to you.


SOARES: Just reading some of those facts that we just gave a perspective of -- our viewers the perspective who exactly is voting for the next Conservative leader. Doesn't it beg the question, shouldn't this be a -- shouldn't we have a general election?

RENTOUL: This always comes up whenever --


RENTOUL: Whenever the British -- this is the way the British Constitution works. If a prime minister goes in between elections then the party that they represent choose the new leader. And --


RENTOUL: You know, it happened with Gordon Brown replacing Tony Blair not so long ago.


RENTOUL: And the Conservatives at the time were demanding that we should have a general election.

SOARES: Well, this --

RENTOUL: Now the Labour Party is demanding we should have a general election.

SOARES: This leader, if it is Boris Johnson, everyone expects it is, I assume you do, too, is really following the will of the people and that is to leave the European Union. He's promising a do or die to leave by October 31st.


SOARES: What's your take on it? How realistic is it? Because the math inside hasn't changed. He still has a minority government.

RENTOUL: Absolutely.

SOARES: There's still huge divisions within his party. Can he unite the party? Can he deliver on this promise?

RENTOUL: Well, I don't think he can. He may do.


RENTOUL: But I think the odds are against it. And I think the most important thing about that Conservative Party membership in the country, as you say, it's older, white male but also very, very hard Brexit. They support leaving without a deal. Now that is not something that is supported in the House of Commons. And it's something --

SOARES: As we've seen time and time again.

RENTOUL: Exactly. And it's something that Boris Johnson has promised to do if he can't get a deal through the House of Commons. Now I don't think he can get a deal through the House of Commons. I don't think he can get a no deal through the House of Commons and therefore he's going to hit a brick wall.

SOARES: So where do we -- OK, he's going to hit a brick wall. Are we looking then a new referendum? Are we looking at a general election?

[04:35:00] Because when we heard -- we saw the last -- perhaps the last penned piece by Boris Johnson, writing in the "Daily Telegraph," where he compared his mission trying to deliver Brexit, compared it to the mission of the moon, going to the moon.


SOARES: It only took something like seven or eight years to actually go to the moon from the U.S. perspective.

RENTOUL: Well --

SOARES: And it cost 4 percent of GDP, may I add, too. How --

RENTOUL: And also it was possible. SOARES: And it was possible. How -- what's he left with then if he

can't deliver? If he can't convince Europe to budge in in a sort of way, what would be the best thing for the Conservative Party in the end?

RENTOUL: Well, you're absolutely right. And we would then be looking at a referendum -- another referendum or a general election. And I think --

SOARES: He would go forward what? A general election?

RENTOUL: I think (INAUDIBLE) go for a general election because the problem with a referendum is he has to get the legislation for a referendum through this House of Commons. Now that's going to be difficult. So I think he needs to change the House of Commons. He needs to ask for his own mandate, a mandate to deliver a do or die Brexit.


RENTOUL: And go to the country and ask the voters to support that.

SOARES: His impeach tomorrow if he does win, of course, that takes place tomorrow about 5:00 or so outside of 10 Downing Street, will be a momentous speech. It's a speech that everyone always remembers. Margaret Thatcher.


SOARES: Always, you know, we -- her speech the way it was written, with the (INAUDIBLE), it's still -- we still quote it today.


SOARES: What do you think he'll be tapping into? Unity? Cohesion? Bring the country together? That kind of -- the spirit of mission that he talks about.

RENTOUL: But also what he talks about all the time in his "Daily Telegraph" articles which he has been using as a platform for the past few months of a can-do spirit, as you say, you know.

SOARES: Harking back again to the --

RENTOUL: If we can put people on the moon, we could --


RENTOUL: We can do Brexit. You've got to believe in Britain. It's going to be --

SOARES: He has a point, though, doesn't he?

RENTOUL: Yes. I mean, I think there will be a bit of optimistic uplift that people will like. I mean people will like someone who says, you know, never mind all the (INAUDIBLE) and the criticisms, we can do this. We are a great country. So there will be -- there will be some of that. But it's no use in the end hoping that sheer force of will and personality is going to deliver Brexit. That it's a bit more complicated than that.

SOARES: What have we heard from Europe? Has Europe changed its tune in anyway? Because Europe knows him. Europe knows exactly, they've heard his rhetoric.


SOARES: I'm guessing that they would expect his rhetoric to change somewhat as he meets them. What exactly can Europe do at this point?

RENTOUL: Well, there were suggestions in the newspapers over the weekend that Europe was offering him an olive branch, that there was going to be a slightly softer tone in negotiations. But, I mean, personally, I don't see why European leaders should offer Boris Johnson, who they don't particularly like, I mean, at least --

SOARES: Compared to Theresa May. I mean, Theresa May was liked. Yes.

RENTOUL: They respect -- they respected Theresa May.


RENTOUL: They thought she was sincere and she was doing her best. They don't think that about Boris Johnson. I don't see how they're going to offer Boris Johnson things that they weren't prepared to offer Theresa May.

SOARES: And, you know, my previous guest was talking about how Boris Johnson has so many knives stuck in his back from within his own party.

RENTOUL: Indeed.

SOARES: How is he going to unite the party? Because that's going to be key in trying to get votes through, into getting the mass on his side out here?

RENTOUL: Yes. I mean, there, he's got a very difficult choice to make. Does he go for a hard Brexit cabinet where he --


RENTOUL: Where he only appoints people who voted leave three years ago or does he try and bring in all the factions of the party. Now so far he's tended towards the hard Brexit side and saying that, you know, anyone who joins his cabinet is going to have to sign up to being willing to take us out without an agreement.

SOARES: We will expect or perhaps today to hear leaks or starting rumors of who his cabinet -- the beginning of his cabinet might -- may be, right?

RENTOUL: I hope so because otherwise we have (INAUDIBLE) to May.


SOARES: Beside what you've already written about Boris Johnson at great length. But we'll hear if some members of his cabinet in key roles. But what about -- I mean, in terms of what we've seen -- we've seen in the last three days, three or four -- three people I think who decided that if he's nominated, these people will step down, right?

RENTOUL: Indeed.

SOARES: Do you expect more to follow suit? You think others will resign?

RENTOUL: Yes. I think as soon as the results of the leadership election is announced and it's confirmed that it's Boris Johnson, I think that's just the moment for people who have their doubts about him to make their position known. We saw Alan Duncan, the junior foreign minister.


RENTOUL: Jumped the gun rather yesterday.

SOARES: Yesterday.

RENTOUL: Taking for granted the results of the leadership election. But I think he will be followed by others today and we know that there are cabinet ministers who are preparing to leave office as soon as Boris Johnson comes in.

SOARES: We shall see. Let's see what happens today. What are you expecting the margin? 60-40 or how --

RENTOUL: No, I think more like 65-70.

SOARES: 65-70 for Boris.

RENTOUL: For Boris Johnson, yes.

SOARES: And that is going to be important as they are trying to get that huge lead on his side.

RENTOUL: Well, yes. But it will help him in the short term. But in the long term, as I say, he's heading for a brick wall.

[04:40:05] SOARES: Wonderful. Thank you very much there.

Now our international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joins us now from 10 Downing Street.

Nic, I'm not sure whether you were hearing this discussion here with my guest, with John, but basically what we're saying is what we've been saying all along is that regardless who takes this position, who takes this job at 10 Downing Street the problem remains the same. The math behind doesn't -- in parliament just does not add up and he still has a minority government. So what else? What's new?

ROBERTSON: You know, he is faced with that challenge. He's talked about an infusion of optimism as required in the nation. He's going to need double doses, triple, quadruple doses of that, maybe, himself to tackle the challenges. It is clear that he feels he's got something to -- that he's got something to work with there. So, you know, we don't really know he's going to go to the European Union with and say. But the indications that we've had is that he may choose to try to do what he's talked about before. He sort of famously said that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was something that could be managed in a similar way to their congestion zone of London, i.e., that there would be a technical solution.

And there are certain indications that would give us to belief that he would think that -- that he would think that it would be a way to get out of that thorny backstop issue over the problems between the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland once Britain leaves the European Union. But the clear message from the European Union is the deal that Theresa May had is not one that's going to be opened up.

It is not one that they are prepared to open up and there are very substantial concerns of the European Union that a technical solution, while one day it may actually work, there isn't anything in place at the moment that could work. So that's -- that is one of the challenges that he is undoubtedly -- that he is undoubtedly going face. The most immediate one, what headway will he be able to make with Brussels and if not, as we were hearing from your last guest there, the do or die Brexit option. He will leave on the 31st of August -- 31st of October, rather, and he will expect all his cabinet members to support him on that.

SOARES: Do or die, that's what he said. It was a sense of mission, wasn't it, Nic? We saw his report -- we saw him writing "Daily Telegraph" where he compared solving the Northern Ireland problem to really going to the moon. There are technological solutions.

This do or die spirit, this sense of mission, I'm guessing it's something we should expect to hear from him perhaps tomorrow where you are outside 10 Downing Street. It is crucial, of course, at this time with Conservative Party so divided, that he tries to unite the party if he is to go forward with whatever deal he has.

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. I mean, Boris Johnson is in his nature to try to sort of take people with him. To use his charisma, to infuse them with the enthusiasm that he appears to have to be, to be big with his words and generous with his thoughts and grand and grandiose with his vision. That's exactly the sort of thing that we can expect him to appeal as a prime minister.

Of course, all new prime ministers when they get to the steps of Downing Street they do like to lay out in a fairly brief number of words the things that they hope to achieve. That they don't want to box themselves in by saying things that ultimately they cannot back out of. And there will be other pressing issues. Social care, health care reform, schools. These are all going to be important issues in the first hundred days of Boris Johnson. Why? Because there's quite clearly reality of perhaps him calling a snap election or perhaps a vote of no confidence in the government and precipitating a general election.

So there are other issues that are important to the nation, not as important as Brexit, let's say, but other issues that are important that could be real vote getters if there were a general election. So the pressure will be on in that regard as well -- Isa.

SOARES: We shall see whether he shares his hard-line rhetoric and pivots somewhat to something that will attract the European Union.

Nic Robertson, outside 10 Downing Street, thanks very much, Nic. We'll touch base with you in the next half hour or so.

You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. Still to come this hour, scores of protesters again flood the streets of San Juan. Why they aren't letting up in their demands that the Puerto Rican governor step down? We'll bring you that story, next.


[04:46:59] SOARES: We want to recap our top story this hour. In just about two hours' time we expect to hear the British Conservative Party name the U.K.'s next prime minister. That's when the party will announce its new leader. The finalist, former London mayor Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Johnson is the odds-on favorite to replace outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May.

At this hour she's scheduled to hold a final cabinet meeting. On Wednesday she's expected to visit the Queen and then formally resign.

We'll keep on top of this story, of course, in our continuing coverage here.

I want to turn now, though, to anger spilling out on the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Police deployed tear gas to disperse a huge crowd near the governor's mansion a short time ago. Protesters are demanding the governor of the U.S. territory resign over rampant corruption as well as leaked sexist as well homophobic chats.

Our Leyla Santiago gets us up to speed.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hundreds of thousands bearing the elements rain or shine, filling the streets of San Juan, demanding Governor Ricardo Rossello step aside or be impeached after hundreds of his private messages were published, some suggesting systematic corruption and abuses of power.

Protesters say Rossello is out of touch with the people of Puerto Rico, and the leaked chats were merely the tipping point.

MARISTELLA GROSS, PROTESTER: I am fed up with the thieving government. I am fed up with corruption. I am fed up with lack of integrity.

SANTIAGO: Rossello announced Sunday that he would not seek re- election and would step down as president of the New Progressive Party on the island. But he would not resign.

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: My contention is that I need to work beyond politics so that we can address some of the longstanding problems of corruption here in Puerto Rico and fix that problem.

SANTIAGO: That's not enough, says his opponents that are now calling for him to leave office now.

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN MAYOR: The crimes committed by the governor are so horrendous that it cannot wait.

SANTIAGO: Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism published nearly 900 pages of private chats showing offensive and misogynistic messages between the governor and his inner circle. That includes using homophobic slurs and suggesting violence against political opponents.

The people of Puerto Rico are now eagerly waiting to see if the governor's exit will follow. And they're looking to the legislature of Puerto Rico to see if they'll take up impeachment.

MELISSA MARK-VIVERITO, LATINO VICTORY PROJECT INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT: This is an attack and basically an attack on the people of Puerto Rico in general. I think what the chats revealed it was basically the breaking point.

SANTIAGO: Even President Donald Trump today is calling for the governor's resignation saying Rossello mishandled the recovery from Hurricane Maria.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a terrible governor. I'm the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico.

SANTIAGO: The streets of Puerto Rico have seen demonstrations since last week, some peaceful, some turning violent, but many protesters say today feels like a new day.

[04:50:03] (On camera): Why is this, today, different from what we've seen there week?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it's not a matter about color or who you are or your background, it's a matter about uniting everyone, all sectors, all at once saying for once and for all this needs to change and will change.


SOARES: Leyla Santiago there in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Now U.S. President Donald Trump hosted Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on Monday. Both used the opportunity to tout progress on Afghan peace talks to end America's longest war. Mr. Trump also floated a military option before dismissing it's not worth the human cause. Take a listen.


TRUMP: If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people. Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth, it would be gone. It would be over in literally in 10 days.

IMRAN KHAN, PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER: This is the closest we've been to a peace deal in Afghanistan.


KHAN: And there's no military solution in Afghanistan. There's no military solution because as Mr. President says if you go all out military there will be millions and millions of people who will die. So there's only one solution. And I feel, that I think we will discuss this, it's the closest we have been to a peace deal. And we hope that in the coming days we will be able to urge the Taliban to speak to the Afghan government and come to a settlement, a political solution.


SOARES: Now Mr. Trump says Pakistan's efforts towards that resolution could save millions of lives. The U.S. military has been in Afghanistan for 18 years.

You are watching CNN NEWSROOM for our special coverage of the U.K. Conservative Party leadership contest. I'll be right back after a very short break. Don't go anywhere.


SOARES: Now as we count down the hours, the results of the Conservative Party leadership contest some within the party are already preparing to step down in anticipation that Boris Johnson will be Britain's next prime minister.

Finance Minister Philip Hammond is expected to resign if he says Johnson wins. Rory Stewart, who is the U.K.'s International Development secretary, said he would resign rather than serve under the former London mayor. And the former Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan resigned, if you remember, on Monday.

Now South Korean jets have fired warning shots at a Russian military plane that entered into South Korean airspace.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live in Moscow with the details.

And Fred, what do we know? Because we have heard that Russian -- the Russian military disputing the accounts from South Korea. What exactly are the Russians saying here?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's an interesting take on things, Isa, because there are indeed two sides to this and there seemed to have been also two separate incidents that both sides are talking about. And the Russians are acknowledging one, seemingly not acknowledging the other one. Essentially what the South Koreans are saying is that first what happened is that two Russian strategic, very heavy bombers and two Chinese bombers entered close to their airspace in what they call their air defense zone. They say that they then scrambled jets to intercept these bombers.

The Russians for their part are acknowledging that this did take place. They say that these F-16 jets from South Korea came and buzzed around these Russian bombers. The Russians are saying that this was done in an unsafe way. And that the F-16s fired off flares as they said as they were moving away.

Now of course flares are not shots so that certainly is something where the Russians are saying they don't believe that there was any sort of threat to their crew and they are saying that if there was a threat to their crew, they would have had a very response to that. But there was a second incident that the South Koreans are saying was more major and more serious, if you will. And that's the one that the Russians really haven't talked about yet very much.

[04:55:02] The South Koreans are saying that a Russian reconnaissance plane, a command-and-control aircraft, entered into their airspace. Now this is much closer to South Korean territory than the bombers would have gotten. The South Koreans are saying that they then launched two interceptor jets that went after this plane and that these interceptor jets then fired warning shots at the Russian plane.

Now they say this was on two occasions. This happened twice that the Russians entered into South Korean airspace and that in total the interceptor jets fired two bursts, that this was a total of around 360 rounds that were fired. Again, as far as that incident is concerned we don't have any word from the Russians on that yet but certainly firing warning shots at a Russian aircraft is quite a major incident there that seems to have been going on over the far eastern area around Russia and of course South Korea as well -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes. What we know it's not the first time, isn't it, Fred, that South Korean pilots have tried to successfully, trying to prevent Russian aircraft from flying over mutual waters? Does it signal more tensions, though, in your view, between U.S. allies, Russia and China in the Pacific area?

PLEITGEN: Well, the specific area certainly a lot more disputed than it would have been in the past. I think that is absolutely the case. The Chinese certainly are becoming a lot more bold in that area. If you look at some of the islands that they've put up, really constructed in the South China Sea and some of the grief that they are giving American aircraft and American vessels that are passing through that area. Obviously that's led to some tensions between the U.S., U.S.'s allies and China.

Then you have the Russians who quite frankly have been a lot more bold in the Far East as well flying a lot more missions also close to American airspace up in the way, way north of the Far East. And then, of course, just a couple of weeks back you had an incident between two warships, one Russian and one American, where the U.S. warship says it had to conduct evasive maneuvers to get out of the way of the Russian ship because they say that the Russians were acting unprofessionally. The Russians of course disputing that claim, however acknowledging that yes, those two ships did come very close -- Isa.

SOARES: Thanks very much there, Fred Pleitgen, for us coming to you live from Moscow.

And that does it for me. I'll be back in the next hour for continuing special coverage of the Conservative Party leadership contest. I'm Isa Soares coming to you live outside the British parliament. I'll be back within the hour with Richard Quest. Do stay right here with CNN.